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1. Rhode Island’s 113 state lawmakers are back in action at the State House, and two issues are top of mind for many: the PawSox and the budget deficit. The discussion over the AAA team’s future – a debate that will enter its fourth year next month – continues to inch along, with the Senate expected to pass a revised stadium plan shortly. The PawSox owners say they “have not yet had a meaningful opportunity to review the language of the legislation and proposal on naming rights,” but call it “encouraging to see the outlines of a potential framework.” (A team spokesman had no comment on the status of their talks with Worcester.) Yet Speaker Mattiello made clear Tuesday the team has a long way to go to win over the House, saying he still senses “resistance with the public” and needs to see that change to allow a vote on the ballpark. Meanwhile, the budget situation will take center stage in two weeks when Governor Raimondo delivers her State of the State and then releases her tax-and-spending plan. How will she close a two-year shortfall estimated at $260 million? The gap is significant – the House Fiscal Office estimates the current-year deficit is the largest since the height of the Great Recession. And as John Marion noted on this week’s Newsmakers, if this is Rhode Island’s budget situation well into a national economic recovery, how will things look in the next recession?
2. State Rep. Joy Hearn’s announcement that she won’t seek re-election makes the five-term Barrington Democrat the first lawmaker to announce plans to retire this year. (Three other reps – Patricia Morgan, Bobby Nardolillo and Aaron Regunberg – are seeking higher office rather than new terms in their current positions.) Hearn has represented House District 66, a Barrington/East Providence seat, since 2008. As former Rep. John Loughlin noted on Twitter, Hearn’s district was represented by Republican Susan Story for most of the 2000s, suggesting the GOP could have a pickup opportunity now that it’s an open seat. The district went heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2016, giving her 60.8% of the vote versus 34.4% for Donald Trump, but the electorate will of course be different in a non-presidential year.
3. At the height of Thursday’s winter storm, Governor Raimondo announced she was barring tractor-trailer trucks from state roadways until 9 p.m. to make the cleanup easier. What gave her the authority to do that? Two state laws, according to her office – 30-15-7 and 30-15-9, which were originally enacted back in 1973 and give the governor broad powers over emergency management and disaster response. The temporary truck ban was codified in this formal proclamation.
4. A tipster spotted Governor Raimondo meeting with Senate Democratic leaders Dominick Ruggerio, Michael McCaffrey and Maryellen Goodwin at the Capital Grille on Friday night. No word on what they were discussing.
5. A familiar face is returning to the State House. Governor Raimondo’s office said Friday she has hired Tom Coderre, a former state senator who later served as chief of staff to then-Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, as a new senior advisor. Spokesman David Ortiz reports Coderre will “oversee addiction/opioid coordination and provide general senior advisor work, especially legislative strategy and relationships.” Coderre’s arrival follows the departure of David Cruise, another former state senator, who had been a Raimondo senior advisor since she took office.
6. Attorney General Jeff Sessions added a new element to Rhode Island’s marijuana legalization debate this week when he rescinded the U.S. Justice Department’s “hands-off approach” to pot prosecutions in the states. Asked by Tim White how the policy change will be implemented locally, a spokesman for interim Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Stephen Dambruch said: “The United States Attorney’s Office will evaluate each matter based upon its specific facts and then rely upon the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions when deciding which cases to pursue.” Rhode Island leaders had already been sounding fairly wary of legalizing, citing a variety of concerns, some based on Colorado’s experience. The marijuana debate will also be shaped in part by the findings of a special legislative commission on the topic; its report is due to the General Assembly by March 1. A Pew poll out Friday shows 61% of Americans support legalization, up from 31% in 2000.
7. And speaking of the Rhode Island U.S. attorney’s office, did you know that if President Trump does not install a permanent successor to Peter Neronha in the next four months, U.S. District Chief Judge William Smith will be able to name an interim appointee? Tim White has the details on that process here.
8. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “The independent audit on Providence’s finances released this week confirmed some good news that the Elorza administration has been touting for several months: for the first time since 2011, the city has a rainy day fund. While that won’t mean much for taxpayers, it’s something the ratings agencies view favorably and potentially gives the city some breathing room for coming years. Judging by the looks of things, the mayor might need it. A separate five-year budget projection released by the mayor’s office shows the city side of the budget is generally expected to remain stable through 2023; in fact, the only year where a deficit is projected in the city budget is 2022, when the shortfall could hit $2.9 million. The school side of things is a different story. With costs expected to increase and state aid leveling off, the city is projecting the school department shortfall to grow from $3.7 million in 2019 to $37 million by 2023. Remember, if the school department runs a deficit, the city is required to cover it. And there is virtually no chance there will be enough money in the rainy day fund in five years to overcome the current projection. At the same time, five-year projections are typically too far out to be considered accurate and they include extremely conservative calculations, particularly on the state aid side. Luckily, city leaders do have some time to close the projected gaps. You can expect the new City Council School Department Oversight Committee to make it a top priority.”
9. Angel Taveras will have his mayoral portrait unveiled April 7.
10. As expected, the new tax law President Trump signed last month will have a sizable impact on CVS Health. CVS said this week the changes will mean more than $1 billion in extra cash for the company this year alone; to put that number in perspective, CVS’s estimated income-tax liability topped $3 billion in each of the last three years. CVS also said its effective tax rate will fall to about 27% in 2018; the company’s effective tax rate has been more than 10 percentage points higher, up to as high as 39.5%, in each of the last three years. How will the Woonsocket giant spend all that additional cash? No details yet, but the company is promising “strategic investments in future areas of growth.”
11. Also on the CVS beat, the Hartford Courant has a smart profile of CEO Larry Merlo as the Aetna merger process continues.
13. Via The Globe’s Jon Chesto: “With natural gas in high demand for heating, oil has emerged as the leading source of electricity in New England. Nearly one-third of our power is coming from oil-fired plants these days, versus practically zero on a normal day. Meanwhile, only one-fourth is from natural gas, compared to roughly half. Many oil plants are running around the clock.”
14. Congressman Langevin is helping lead a push in Congress to appropriate enough funding so the Pentagon can buy up to 13 Virginia-class submarines, which are partly built at Electric Boat’s facility in Quonset.
15. Who knew? Chopmist Hill in Scituate was considered as a possible location for the United Nations headquarters back in the 1940s.
16. Should T.F. Green’s new name be “Rhode Island International Airport”?
18. Merry 12th Day of Christmas – keep an eye out for those 12 drummers drumming.
19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable previews the big issues at the General Assembly this year. This week on Executive Suite – Dr. Peter Snyder, founder/managing partner, New England Medical Innovation Center; Ellen McNulty-Brown, CEO, Lotuff Leather. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. See you back here next Saturday morning.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook